How to Transplant or Repot African Violets
Do you need to transplant or repot your African Violets? While this process is fairly simple, there are a few things to be careful of along the way. In this article, gardening expert and houseplant enthusiast Madison Moulton takes you through each step of repotting and transplanting African Violets.
Repotting is an infrequent task when it comes to houseplant care, but still one that we tend to avoid or put off. However, if you’re growing African violets, repotting is one task that cannot be forgotten.
There are many reasons you may need to repot your African Violets. From rotting roots to aging soil, repotting is important for the long-term longevity of your plant. In many cases, you’ll need to transplant into an entirely new pot if the plant has grown too large and needs room to breathe.
African Violets, with their famous blooms and adorable fluffy leaves, have particular requirements when it comes to repotting. To make sure you get it right and keep your plants alive as long as possible, follow this essential guide to repotting these popular flowering houseplants.
About African Violets
African violets rose to fame in the 1970s, garnering an almost cult-like following and spawning many appreciation societies around the world. Although interest in these compact plants has waned throughout the years, there is no doubt that they are now back in fashion.
Scientifically known as Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia, they are not true violets as the common name may imply. However, they are native to Africa, found in the east around Tanzania and Kenya. Their colorful blooms and fluffy leaves stand out instantly – one of the reasons why they are so famous.
They are compact plants generally kept indoors as houseplants. Here, they enjoy the shady conditions, regular moisture and warm temperatures that closely match those found in their native habitats.
Although their purple blooms are probably the most popular, they are not the only color around. There are many different types of African Violets, that flower in delicate white or even pink. All varieties will have their signature pearlescent sheen that makes the blooms so captivating.
Most houseplants only require repotting every year or so at most. In fact, it’s better to wait to repot to avoid disturbing the roots, only moving the plant when it starts to show signs that it has outgrown its container or that the soil needs to be changed.
This is not quite the case for African violets. Although they are slow growers and retain their compact shape even when mature, they actually need to be repotted more frequently than other houseplants.
As they grow taller and lose their bottom leaves, they can begin to look unsightly. They develop taller stems when gaps in between – known as necks – that ruin the overall shape of the plant. Repotting can help reduce this phenomenon and keep the plants compact.
Repotting frequently also gives the plants more space and improves soil conditions like nutrient levels and moisture retention, ensuring the roots are happy. While root disturbance is not great for the plants, bad soil and lack of room are far worse problems to deal with.
With that being said, it’s recommended to repot around twice per year. For younger plants, some collectors repot more often – sometimes as much as every three months – but twice a year should provide the right balance to keep your plants satisfied.
Signs You Need to Repot
In some cases, your African Violet may show signs it needs repotting before this biannual session. Or perhaps you’ve forgotten to repot, in which case these signs will tell you your plant is ready.
The first thing to look out for is soil problems. They grow in very small containers with small amounts of soil. With frequent water and lack of organic matter, this soil will slowly break down over time. If it stops holding onto moisture and compacts quickly, it’s time for a complete soil replacement.
You can also look to the leaves of your plant for signs of struggle, such as yellowing or browning edges. If the bottom leaves drop off the stem, giving the plant a long neck, you can also repot to get rid of that stretched growth.
In rarer cases (because they remain quite small throughout their lifespans), your plant may start to outgrow its pot.
Once the roots have no more space to expand, the plant will respond by yellowing, dropping leaves and limiting flowering. Once you notice roots growing from the drainage holes, consider repotting soon.
Finally, if you’re facing problems with overwatering or diseases like root rot, repotting can help you potentially save your plant. It’s better to repot immediately when you notice these signs as unchecked root damage will eventually kill your plant.
Repotting While in Bloom
As they bloom for long periods when healthy, it can be tricky to find a gap to repot if you don’t want to damage the flowers.
When the plant is putting energy into flowering, it is also likely to recover slower from the repotting process. But, repotting during flowering won’t do any permanent damage to the plant if it is urgent.
If you are trimming the roots back, it’s best to trim off the flowers too for the quickest possible recovery.
Before You Start
Before you begin the actual repotting process, you’ll need to gather a few items – a soil mix, a container, and some gardening tools.
Choose The Right Soil Mix
African violets are specialized plants that require a specialized soil mix. Using regular potting soil or even garden soil will quickly lead to their demise as it usually doesn’t contain the right components and textures to keep the fussy roots happy.
Garden soil can also carry weed seeds and potential pests and diseases that spread to the plant and cause serious damage.
Luckily, nurseries have made the repotting process easy for us by formulating plant specific potting mixes with just the right ratios of components. These are usually available to purchase at your local garden center. But if you can’t find any, you can always shop online.
Those who prefer the DIY soil option can try combining one part potting soil with one part coconut coir and one part river sand for better drainage. Add a small amount of fertilizer for a nutrient boost and you’re ready to repot.
Choose The Right Container
Unlike larger houseplants that may need a container two sizes up or potentially larger, African violets need to be snug in their pots to flower well. As they require repotting so often, it’s usually best to remove the plant, wash the existing container it’s in and reuse it.
As long as the roots aren’t majorly overgrown or peeking through the drainage holes, there is no problem with using the same pot.
If your plant does need a slightly larger pot, make sure you choose one only one size up at most. Any larger and you may risk root rot or complete lack of blooms. The container should be small enough for the leaves to hang just over the edges of the container rather than on top of the soil.
And, as applies to any houseplant or any plant in general, make sure the new container has drainage holes. Plants can’t live long-term in pots without drainage – or at least they can’t live healthily or happily for very long. The excess moisture needs to drain away to prevent root rot and promote airflow.
Choose The Right Tools
Finally, you’ll need to gather some tools. Well, technically only one tool – a pair of pruning shears. Have these handy in case you need to trim off any leaves or remove part of the root ball.
You can also grab some newspaper to repot on to make cleanup easier if you’d like. Other than that, there are no specialized tools required.
Now that you’ve learned about the reasoning behind repotting, it’s time to actually start performing the task! Follow along, step-by-step for best results.
Step 1: Prepare The Container
The first step in repotting is to prep your container. If you’re recycling an old container, make sure you clean it with soap and water to remove any debris. Clean containers prevent the spread of disease to the roots of the plant. Also check there is no old soil blocking any of the drainage holes.
Grab your soil mix and fill the bottom layer of the pot, just covering the drainage holes. You can use a thin layer of gravel at the bottom to stop the soil from spilling out, but as long as the drainage holes are small enough this shouldn’t be an issue.
Step 2: Remove The Plant
With the pot prepared, you’re ready to turn to the plant. Grabbing the stem at the base, slowly pull the plant out of its container. If there is some resistance you can squeeze the sides of the pot or, if the container is not malleable, add water to the soil to make the plant easier to remove.
Never pull the plant from any of the leaves or the top part of the stem. These plants are quite delicate and the leaves will likely break off when pulled. Rather place the plant on its side and gently shake it out than pull if you are struggling to remove it.
Step 3: Tease The Roots
Next is an essential step in any repotting process – teasing the roots. Although less root disturbance is preferred, you also don’t want rootbound plants to continue with roots growing in circles around each other.
Teasing the roots untangles them and allows them to grow outward into the free space once they have been replanted.
As they can be quite sensitive, avoid teasing the roots too much. Just release them gently until they are no longer wrapped around each other. If you repot often, the plant shouldn’t be too rootbound anyway.
Step 4: Trim Any Damage
Now it’s time to bring in your pruning shears for a quick trim. Repotting is also the perfect time to clean up your African violets and promote new growth.
Removing any wilted or damaged leaves and spent flowers will help direct the plant’s energy toward recovery and root growth after repotting, helping it settle in much quicker.
With your shears, remove any damaged or diseased leaves close to the stem. If you’re burying a long neck, you can also trim the roots back by about half an inch to make space in the container and control growth. This step isn’t always necessary.
You should, however, trim any diseased or mushy roots to stop the problem from spreading throughout the plant.
Step 5: Replant
Finally, lower the plant into the container till the leaves are just above the rim of the pot. Fill in the gaps with more of your soil mix until the container is full to just below the rim.
Then, don’t forget to water straight after repotting to settle the roots and give them the moist conditions they love.
Now that you know when and how to Repot or Transplant African Violets, the next step is to actually perform the task! There are many different issues that can plague these popular indoor houseplants, so don’t be afraid of repotting when it’s necessary. Just remember that after repotting, there’s always a little bit of an adjustment period as your plant adapts to its new environment.